Supermarket Sweep

Monday, March 16, 2009

I have been planning to write this post for a couple of weeks now, but just haven't had the opportunity. I had already decided to get it written today, and coincidentally, just a few short hours ago, someone left a comment on my last post that relates to this very subject. So, perfect timing. Here we go.

At the end of January, I was on a message board when someone started a poll--"How much money do you spend on groceries per week, and for how many people?" It was at that moment, as I read through everyone's responses, that I realized I don't really know.

The reason I didn't know how much we were spending was because I was usually in the grocery store 3-4 times a week, picking up whatever was immediately needed for that night's dinner, or whatever we were out of at the moment (usually milk and cereal). And with so many little trips throughout the week, it wasn't like I had ever really added up how much it all cost.

The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to change. I actually enjoy grocery shopping (if you had Wegmans, you'd enjoy it, too), but even I could admit that the frequent trips had become a bit annoying. Not only that, but I was sure that we were spending extra money because we were at the store so much. I had a hunch that if we could reduce the amount of times we were in the store, we could also reduce our grocery budget (whatever that budget even was).

Yet ANOTHER reason (like I needed an additional one) I thought this all sounded like a good idea was simple: MEAL PLANNING. More than anything, I was tired of panicking at 4:00 p.m. at work, realizing that I had no idea what I wanted to make for dinner. I'd search frantically for something I was in the mood for, something I had the patience to make that night, and then I'd jot down whatever I needed from the store and stop there on the way home. ANNOYING.

After thinking all of this through, I decided to establish a new rule: Grocery shopping? ONCE A WEEK.

A week before we left for our vacation in Las Vegas, I planned a trip to the store and told Michael that we weren't allowed to go to again until we got back from Vegas. So we planned our meals, estimated how much of the staples (cereal, milk, yogurt, fruit, etc.) we go through a week (since we didn't even really know!), and I went to the store armed with my list. And not only was my big shopping trip successful, but we succeeded in not going back to the store before Vegas.

And we've been sticking to the once-a-week trips ever since.

Sure, we've had to "cheat" a couple of times and run into the store for an item or two if we forgot to add it to the list, or if I decided to make cupcakes on a whim. But we've been pretty good at avoiding those little trips. Plus, when you plan ahead, you can pick meals based on ingredients that are on sale. Every Sunday, I look through the circular to help me come up with ideas for that week's meals.

I go shopping every Tuesday on my way home from work. Monday nights, we stand in the kitchen, check out what we have and what we don't, and we make a list. We map out the week and figure out how many meals we are going to be cooking, and then we formulate our menu. I pull up the recipes to determine what ingredients need to be added to the list, and then it's done. I know exactly what we need from the store, and I don't need to think about what to have for dinner again until the next week. IT. IS. GLORIOUS.

It's not to say we don't have flexibility. There are still nights when it turns out we don't want to make or eat what we planned for. Luckily, we usually have ingredients for a few extra meals on hand as well. But so far, we really have done a pretty good job at sticking to what we plan. I actually look forward to the meals we make, and it's so much less stressful when it is already determined in advance.

OK, I think I may be rambling a bit. The whole point of this post is to say... if you're like the "old" me, I urge you to try out the way of life of the "new" me. It's good for your sanity, good for your appetite, and most of all, good for your wallet.


etta March 16, 2009 at 11:29 PM  

I love meal planning. I can't get away with going shopping every two weeks like some people, but once a week is great for me!

AlmostThere March 17, 2009 at 12:02 AM  

I've started meal planning and so far I haven't found that we've been saving money, but I'm a whole lot less stressed about dinner and it goes a lot quicker. I think the main reason we haven't really saved much yet is because we just moved, so we had to stock up on all the ingredients you use in a lot of meals, i.e. herbs, oils, rices, pastas, etc. I currently don't plan meals based on ads, because that's something I just found out about that, but I'm for sure going to start this week!! :)

Suberella March 17, 2009 at 1:15 AM  

This is how I have been doing it for a few years now and it is so much better! I bought a magnetic notepad for our fridge that has all the days of the week - I plan out each day and which days we'll have leftovers. I also have a blank pad for us to add to the list throughout the week, so my hubby can add if he realizes we need something. It is great!

Anonymous,  March 17, 2009 at 2:51 AM  

I've been meal planning for the last 4 months. I used it for our budget, but also for my weight loss. I sit down with Carlos every Friday and decide on what he wants and what I want and then plan accordingly. We shop every Sunday. Works out great! :)

Alana March 17, 2009 at 4:27 AM  

I was just looking at all the meals and desserts you make with my roommate and the first thing he asked was, "Goodness, I wonder how often she has to go grocery shopping!" We are 21 and in college and only go every 2 weeks. Seeing everything you make and all the ingredients made us think that we were weird and just dont stock up on enough. Im glad to know that you were actually just shopping a whole lot.

Kristin March 17, 2009 at 8:01 AM  

We are meal planners too! We save money, time and frustration each week. We also eat a lot healthier, especially on the weekends when we tend to go out. Great post!

Heather March 17, 2009 at 8:06 AM  

Hey Alana, thanks for your comment.

Just to clarify... I am still making the same amount of meals per week as I always was. The point is that instead of taking 3-4 small grocery trips a week to basically shop for a day or two's worth of food, I now go on one big grocery trip a week. I have been doing it this way for almost two months now, and if you look back through my blog, I've cooked and baked many things in that time!

You can still cook and bake things with many ingredients... as long as you plan ahead. That's where the meal planning comes in. We plan out what we're going to eat for the week, and I buy all the ingredients we need to make those meals on our weekly grocery trip. So it IS possible to stock up with some planning.

I usually make dinner about four nights a week (we eat leftovers the other nights), and I almost always make some sort of baked good on the weekends. And still, I stick to my once-a-week trip. It can be done! :)

Lindsey March 17, 2009 at 8:09 AM  

We are trying to do this as well. Or at least cutting down on our trips to the grocery store. What do you do about keeping your produce super fresh? I find that lettuce and similar things can start to get wilty if it's not used pretty quickly, and we do our shopping on the weekend and don't always use produce immediately (like on giant salad night). I'm also trying to be better about eating leftovers!

Anonymous,  March 17, 2009 at 8:27 AM  

THANK YOU SO MUCH!!! I am so glad that you made a post about this :-) I am so anxious to move in with FI in the next month or two and begin cooking. I have so many of your recipies bookmarked and this post will definitely help us :-)
Thanks again,

Mrs. J L March 17, 2009 at 8:45 AM  

It works for me too! I have been doing it since my hubby and I got moved in together and its makes things/ life much easier.

Christine,  March 17, 2009 at 9:14 AM  

I'm actually surprised you weren't doing this! I love going grocery shopping too, but once a week is enough for me! And it has to save to tons of time, which is just as important as money.

Megan March 17, 2009 at 10:22 AM  

I look forward to doing this once we move to our house. Right now we can only buy what we can carry so we shop nearly every day. I love the idea of planning a week in advance and I'll be able to do that once I have a car, and a pantry, etc.

Renee March 17, 2009 at 4:41 PM  

We save so much money now that we go once a week and meal plan. It's funny how many little extra things that you pick up when you get groceries for a meal and then that adds up when you do that a couple of times a week!

Something else that helps us is that we keep a magnetic list on our refrigerator and when one of us uses the last of something, we write it on the list. I run out of the bathroom and add tooth paste or other random things in the morning or I'll forget. We add the ingredients for our meals at the end of the week and then do our shopping on Sunday. So much easier!

Lynsey Kaye March 18, 2009 at 10:39 PM  

We just started doing this as well. Unfortunately, we work different shifts so it makes it difficult to plan meals like a "normal couple." We are definitely working on it though.

Good luck! And I am glad to see so many other people are successful with this also. I am going to have to take a few of tips left in your comments and add them to our routine.

Lynsey Kaye March 18, 2009 at 10:40 PM  

I will also admit that I was hoping, by the title of your post, that this would have at least SOMETHING to do with the TV show Supermarket Sweep. I used to love that show! :)

Vanessa March 19, 2009 at 9:00 AM  

Thanks for this, Heather, it's really inspiring. Going to try to do the same too!

Emily March 21, 2009 at 12:34 AM  

While I don't necessarily meal plan, I shop the sales. I only buy things that are on sale. And when it's on sale, I buy lots of it. Especially my meats. When chicken is $1.69/lb in the family size packs, I buy 4 or 5, split it up and freeze it. That's enough meat for me for abotu 2-3 months with other meats and such thrown in. So, I keep my list of things that I always use well stocked in my pantry. Then, I plan around what I have in my pantry. And I clip coupons religiously. Today, I would have gotten free toothpaste with my coupon and the sale price, but they were out. So, I got a rain check. Simple ways to drastically cut your grocery bill. Oh, and I usually do one "big" shopping trip every 4-6 weeks and the other weeks, I just pick up milk and fresh fruit.

Robinm953,  March 21, 2009 at 6:20 PM  

I feel like an old woman (most of you appear to have been married more recently than!), but even after 20+ years I struggle with meal planning and grocery shopping. What has helped most was taking it one step further and doing "freezer cooking". What it is basically is when you make dinner, make a couple of extra meals of whatever you're making that night (there are some exceptions), put it in an appropriate freezer safe container, label it, and freeze before cooking. Then in the future when you decide you're not going to have a lot of time to get dinner on the table the next night, pull out one of your frozen entrees and put it in the fridge to start thawing. Come home, plop it in the pan you would normally cook/bake in, and go from there! All the prep work is done, you just have to do the actual cooking and prepare any sides or desserts...which you ALSO may have already prepped ahead of time and had waiting for you in your freezer! It's easier than doing the "once a month cooking" thing because you're not planning your meals 30 days in advance (and planning the grocery shopping as well), you can use the family pack of chicken or whatever you just bought on sale and get it all in the freezer at once, and it's great in the warmer weather to not have to spend as much time worrying about dinner. I concentrate more on getting extra entrees frozen and do simple side dishes that I know will be done while the main dish is baking/cooking/grilling. There are some great Yahoo groups online (and some great books out there as well) for just this kind of cooking...Friendly Freezer is a good one, and you need to check out the 30 Day Gourmet website, too. With all of you being young and possibly starting families or having young families, I wish I would have known about this when my kids were at home and involved in sports and school activities...we could have saved a fortune and enjoyed some healthier meals as well!

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